Demon of Justice + Chapter 26 (cont)
Waiting for Pain

----------

Quatre sighed as he and Trowa stepped into the cafeteria, shortly before 3pm. "I was hoping we could bring him home today," he said, a small frown on his face. "You know how depressed he gets when he's cooped up..." His voice trailed off in surprise as Duo's cheerful laughter floated across the nearly empty room.

"He certainly doesn't sound depressed," Trowa replied, smirking as he led his blond lover over to the table in the back corner. "Good afternoon, Duo. I see the poor doctor has had enough and banished you to this dungeon."

"Yeah, it's pure torture! Forced to drink this slop they call coffee! Fate worse than death, I tell you," the braided teen said, chuckling. "Better than their icky fake vitamin-fortified OJ, but still a fate worse than death. Plus, my jailer," he motioned to Heero, "forced a slice of apple pie on me. Terrible, just terrible!"

"And now this jailer thinks we should head back to your room," Heero said, helping Duo out of the chair and handing him the crutches. "The previously wicked queen will probably be along soon, and we don't want to have that meeting out in public."

"Especially not if she makes good on her threat to kidnap me and you have to kick her ass," Duo nodded solemnly, negotiating his way between tables. "Wouldn't that look good on a front page or thirty?"

Quatre was left speechless, staring after the Japanese boy as he walked out beside Duo. Trowa chuckled and nudged him forwards, breaking him out of his daze.

"You're not hallucinating, Quatre. That really is Heero Yui. New, improved model, with a visible sense of humour..."

Quatre just shook his head and followed the other pilots.

----------

"Duo! Should you be up?" Relena exclaimed, dropping part of a stack of folders as she nearly bumped into him outside the room. "Is your leg all right? You're not overexerting yourself, are you?"

"Calm down, Pretty!" he said, carefully manoeuvring around the fallen papers and swinging across to the bed. "It's okay. Doctor Modi said it's fine for me to wander around now, so long as I stay off the leg. Come on in and get settled!"

Heero crouched down and started gathering the folders up, nodding for Relena to go in.

"I think we've missed something there too, Trowa," Quatre said under his breath.

"Looks that way... and I can't wait to find out what," his lover whispered back, before crossing the room and settling into a chair.

Heero dropped his burden on the wheeled table, pushed it over next to Relena, and perched on the edge of the bed next to Duo. "So, what exactly do you need our advice on?" he asked calmly, without any of the wariness he usually showed when the 'Pink Princess' was around.

"Quite a few things, actually, but the most important one is the question of some sort of policing agency for the whole Earth Sphere," she said, opening a folder and passing around papers. "We're setting up a sort of parliamentary or congressional system for the government, where regions on Earth and each colony will have representatives. In the future, of course, they'll be properly elected to their positions by their region's people, but we've already got a temporary structure in place, made up of surviving pre-Alliance rulers and politicians... and they're already arguing. Some want a military force, with anywhere up to wartime-level powers. Others want a civilian police force, less power but in fancier uniforms -- in fact, some want a police force that's so watered down that we might as well use them as school crossing guards, because they certainly won't be able to do anything more useful! The rest of us want something in the middle..."

"Like a paramilitary police force," Heero put in. "A force that could handle terrorist threats, and small military forces, yet not be an actual army."

"I agree," Quatre nodded. "Especially if it's run with the proper emphasis on..."

Duo lost track of the conversation almost immediately. He had a niggling feeling that something was badly wrong, but what that 'something' was, he had no idea. His leg wasn't bothering him, there were no missions to worry about, Relena's presence was no longer a teeth-grinding annoyance or a security threat... so what could it be?

* * * * *

Wufei spent most of the hurried journey to the hidden temple slung over a brawny human's shoulder, dangling head-down, struggling just to breathe and stay conscious. The barbed chain wound around him had somehow blocked his newly-formed links to Karthan and Nataku, and the cold fire running along it was slowly burning into him, sapping his strength until he could barely twitch a finger. And when he did manage to move, slowly working one hand out from under a loop, it shifted as if it were alive, coiling back around his wrist and digging hooks into his skin.

Magic, he thought painfully, thoughts moving as sluggishly as if he'd been concussed. Obvious magic. And since there isn't a god yelling in my ear... I think he's blocked too. Which means... this has to be his brother's doing.

Several minutes of slow thought later, it occurred to him that perhaps he wasn't completely cut off from his 'godly stalker'. He'd become so used to trying not to think his name, but perhaps...

...Krashnark?

=*He can't help you now,*= a gloating voice said in his mind, higher-pitched than Krashnark's low tenor but otherwise similar. =*My big brother,*= he went on, putting sarcastic emphasis on the words, =*thinks he can order me around, but he doesn't even have the power to break through my shield to see you, let alone save you. I might let him watch as my priest tortures you to death, though...*=

Wufei's thoughts froze for a moment in shock, before a wave of cold fury drove away the haze clouding his mind. Wonderful, he thought acidly. Childish sibling rivalry on a grand scale. 'You keep hitting me, so I'm going to break your toys', is it? Could you possibly be any more immature?!

He could feel Sharna's mind recoil in startlement for a moment. =*You-- who do you think you are?!*= the god sputtered eventually. =*How dare you speak to me like that?! You'll be begging for mercy in a few minutes, and--*=

As if grovelling would make you treat me any better,* Wufei snapped back. *You're planning to have me tortured to death and you want me to be polite to you?! Your brother's right; you're a moron!

=*You-- what-- I'm a god!*=

And I should care about that fact... why?* he answered, mental 'voice' dripping sarcasm. *Hmm. You don't sound as much like Krashnark as I thought you did at first. He doesn't sputter. Or whine.

One last angry, incoherent noise, and the sense of Sharna's presence was gone.

Duo's been a bad influence on me, Wufei thought, anger fading into exhaustion. I really have to stop insulting every god I meet; it's becoming a habit.

Considering his situation, it was impressive that it only took about ten seconds before he did a mental double-take at that thought.

----------

As he passed through the hidden entrance to the underground temple, ducking his head in a sketchy reverence to the scorpion carved into the stone above the door, the assassin carrying Wufei used the movement to glance warily back at his limp burden. People marked for sacrifice, being carried semi-conscious into the temple where they are to die, are not usually snickering quietly to themselves...

----------

Wufei had been brought in with a little more consideration for his physical well-being than the members of the Order of Torframos had received -- the idea being to keep him in as good condition as possible until the moment when the ceremony of sacrifice started -- so they travelled faster, and were already chained in a line to the back wall of the central chamber when he was carried in and stretched out on the altar. Vaijon was taller than anyone else in the room, and the chamber had been carefully designed so that everyone within it had a good chance of getting a good view of whatever 'entertainment' was in progress, so he had no problem seeing exactly what was going on... and it wasn't encouraging.

"I think you'd better come up with a different plan, Karthan," he said quietly. "One that doesn't require Sir Wufei's participation. That chain doesn't seem to have burned him the way it did me," his hand twitched, "and he's certainly alive, but... he doesn't seem to be truly conscious. Or as strong as usual," he added, voice dropping to a puzzled murmur.

The high priest had two acolytes (or minor priests, or perhaps just random cultists dressed in fancy robes -- Vaijon didn't know how to tell the various grades of Sharna's priesthood apart and didn't really want to learn, beyond the basic recognition required for 'evil cultist, kill') holding Wufei still as he carefully unwound and rearranged the barbed chain, moving it so that his arms and legs were free while taking scrupulous care to always have at least one loop of it around his neck or torso. The men holding him had probably been chosen for strength more than piety, and were gripping his wrists and ankles tightly enough for their white knuckles to be obvious even from where the prisoners stood, but it was also obvious that they weren't really necessary; Wufei's eyes were glazed, almost closed, and the few movements he made were weak and uncoordinated.

"He's acting like someone who's taken a solid blow to the head," Vaijon went on, "and I know that didn't happen, so--"

"--he has to be under a spell," Karthan finished for him, sagging slightly. "Bound into that chain, no doubt, and also probably the reason why I can't contact him through our link. Damn. That does scuttle my idea... unless they're going to take the spell off him once they have him chained down, to make him experience the ceremony 'properly'."

The blond knight-probationer raised an eyebrow, inviting further explanation. "Since I doubt they'll remove the spell unless he's restrained so securely even he won't be able to break free, I fail to see how that will help."

"I don't need his physical participation," Karthan told him, dropping his voice to a bare whisper so as to not be overheard. "I just need his attention... and the link. If we can't re-establish our link, this idea really is doomed."

And so are we, if we don't come up with something else, Vaijon noted privately. Sliding down the wall to crouch on his heels, manacles pulling his arms up over his head, he did his best to look like someone who was just trying to find a comfortable position and brought his ear closer to Karthan's mouth. "Even a flawed plan is at least a start... and I have, as yet, no ideas at all," he admitted dryly. Some random impulse made him glance up at Jens, remembering the 'family banner' comment, and a faint smile quirked his mouth as he switched into his best Court accent. "I pray thee of thy courtesy, good Sir Karthan, do go on."

Focussed on the need to get free before Sharna's worshippers could really get started, Karthan managed to take that comment with only a filthy glare and a few violent beard-twitches before starting to explain.

----------

Despite Wufei's best intentions -- and previous practice at escaping from seemingly hopeless situations -- he wasn't coordinated enough to take advantage of the moment when his bearer laid him down on the altar, the hooked chain loosened slightly, and the men responsible for restraining him hadn't yet taken hold.

And even if I were coordinated enough, right now I'm so weak that Une would be able to hold me down, he thought sourly, trying to kick the man holding his ankles and managing absolutely nothing. Alone. Without her glasses on!

I can't even see properly--

The hands holding him abruptly pulled, spread-eagling him, and he could feel someone else fumbling at his wrists and ankles; a cold hand dropped to touch the chain where it was still looped around his throat, someone muttered something under their breath, and he could abruptly see and feel clearly again. His first convulsive move made it clear that he'd been solidly bound in place, though, and he slowly allowed himself to relax, glaring at the robed man smiling thinly down at him. The links are still gone, he realised. I could probably break loose using the 'extra' strength my link to Nataku gives me, but... I don't have it right now. Luckily for him.

"Good morning, my lord demon," the man said pleasantly, spreading his hands. "Welcome to the House of the Scorpion."

Wufei paused for barely a second before he smiled nastily back. Oh, why not? It's better than doing what they expect, begging for mercy or acting nobly defiant-- "You really should be more careful who you invite in, you know," he said calmly, noting the slight flicker of surprise in the priest's eyes with a certain amount of satisfaction. "I killed the last person I saw dressed like you."

"So I've heard." The priest recovered his composure quickly, tucking his hands into his flowing sleeves and nodding. "My lord Sharna is a trifle... annoyed with you for that, shall we say?"

"He's throwing a childish shit fit, you mean," was the blunt reply. "From what I've heard, he does that a lot. Don't you get tired of it?"

"You are determined to be as irritating as possible, aren't you?" the robed man asked in an amused voice, wisely ignoring the last comment.

"It gives me some personal satisfaction, and can't really make my situation any worse, can it?" Wufei flicked his hands in a sort of abbreviated shrug, accompanied by a dull rattle from the heavy chains attached to his manacles. Behind the priest, he could see the dark-clad men who had captured his group slowly filtering out of the room, replaced by an equal number of men who seemed to be bulkier, on average, and with more visible weapons, but who somehow struck him as less dangerous. The heavily-armed ones are soldier-types, as opposed to... hm. Spies and assassins? He nearly laughed. Of course they seem more dangerous to me; they're the local equivalent of terrorists and guerrillas. My equivalent!

"Excellent point!" the priest agreed cheerfully, drawing Wufei's attention back to the conversation. He turned away for a moment, pushing up his sleeves as he examined something one of his assistants was holding out, but kept talking. "I have to admit that your attitude is a refreshing change, really. Normally, people in your position seem to think that not only could things get worse if they say the wrong thing, things could get better if they say the right thing," he mused, hand hovering over the contents of a tray for a moment before he nodded and made his choice. "I have to put up with a lot of useless begging and pleading for mercy, and it's nice to have something different to listen to for once... though I'm sure we'll get to the begging and pleading eventually, of course," he sighed, turning back towards Wufei with a short knife in his hand.

"Shall we get started?" he asked brightly, cold eyes and thin smile making an unpleasant contrast to the false warmth in his voice. "I hate to cut this conversation short, but my lord Sharna doesn't like to be kept waiting..."

----------

"Are you getting anywhere?" Vaijon hissed, glancing down at Karthan. The shuffling worshippers were clustering nearer to the altar, beginning to settle to their knees, and no-one seemed to be paying any attention to the 'extra' prisoners any more; since there was no longer any need to keep their voices down to bare whispers, he was standing up for a better view again. "They've taken the spell off, at least partly -- he seems to be properly awake again -- but I don't think that's going to last!"

"I'm trying," Karthan gritted out, eyes squeezed shut as he mentally hammered at the closed link. Wufei? Wufei! Can you hear me? "Is the chain still on him?"

"Yes--"

"Shit." So much for this idea, he thought darkly. Well, all I can do is keep trying and hope Uthmar and Arwen get here in time... Wufei! Answer me, damn you! Wufei!

The last couple of assassins slipped quietly out of the chamber, glancing uneasily behind them as they left, and Vaijon twisted to watch them go. "Where are they off to?" he muttered, half to himself. "I'd expect them to be in the front row, gloating over being the ones who caught us..."

"The dog brothers're assassins, not cultists," Jens said tiredly, shrugging his good shoulder. "Sharna may be their patron god, an' they may do dirty work for his church, but they don't worship the bastard, not really. They kill, but they don't torture; I hear they charge extra if you want them to kill someone slow instead'a just shootin' them."

"Ah." Vaijon digested that for a moment, then nodded towards the men who had replaced the assassins. "So they are...?"

"Real cultists." The armsman spat on the floor in front of him, scowling. "The sort that want to live in a hidden temple instead'a in a city, 'cause that's where the sacrifices happen. I'd say these're the temple guard; the assassins'll be swapping with 'em so they can get in here."

"Ah. I, ah, I see," Vaijon said, a little sickly. There was a brief pause, and then he burst out with, "No. No, I don't see. They want to watch people die that much?!"

"You've made it to knight-probationer and you don't know this stuff?" someone muttered incredulously on Jens's other side, and Vaijon blushed fiery red.

"They don't want to just see people die," Jens explained carefully, looking at the blond with something like pity. "They want a taste of 'em." Seeing Vaijon's horrified expression, he nodded. "They don't call their sacrifices 'Feasts of Sharing' f'no reason. Sir. Sharna gets the soul, an' these bastards--" he jerked his chin at the worshippers, mouth twisting as if he wanted to spit again "--get the rest."

Vaijon swallowed hard a few times and then nodded, a bit jerkily but still polite. "I see," he repeated numbly. "Thank you." Glancing one more time at Karthan's tense face, he went back to watching the group around the altar, sending a silent but heartfelt prayer to Torframos as he did.

----------

"Unfortunately, I won't have the opportunity to show you my best work," the priest sighed, discarding the last shred of Wufei's clothing and handing the knife back to his assistant as he ran his eyes appraisingly over the bared flesh before him. "Given a strong subject, I can make a sacrifice last for days, but in your case I have to balance the desire to extract every bit of power against the need to finish before those two Champions come knocking down my door-- oh, I see you've done this before!" he laughed, fingertip tracing the thin scars left by an OZ sergeant's knife on Wufei's stomach. "Someone else got to you first... what a pity!"

"I doubt you'd consider him to be in your league," the human/demon said evenly, keeping revulsion and anger out of his expression with an effort.

"No doubt," he agreed, turning away to consider the tray of knives again. "Did you kill him too?"

"A friend did me that favour."

"Can't have that this time," the priest murmured absent-mindedly, testing the edge of a long, narrow blade against his thumb. "Now... where to begin..." Resting the tip of the blade lightly on Wufei's skin just below his navel, he turned his head to examine his victim's face, eyes glittering cruelly. "Any more bold comments? Defiant speeches? Swear words, even? You can spit if you like, it's been done before."

"You're enjoying this entirely too much, you know," Wufei said flatly. And I will see you dead!

"Ahh, but is there really such a thing as 'too much' when you're talking about fun?" the priest purred, and made the first cut.

* * * * *

I need to be listening to this! Duo thought, annoyed at himself. I've got the chance to help plan something that could do a lot of good, and I'm sitting here twitching because I've got random heebie-jeebies... ow!

Damn. I like these boxers, but the waistband must have a scratchy seam or something... Rubbing surreptitiously at the suddenly aching, prickling spot on his stomach, he concentrated his attention on the conversation going on around him.

[part 25] [back] [part 27] [back to Mel and Christy's fic]